Environmental Health Studies Program Teaches Science from a Cultural Perspective

Staff in the First Nations University of Canada (FNUniv) Health and Sciences department identified a need for a program to train students to become Indigenous health inspectors.

And so, in 1997, conversations and brainstorming began with the Ministry of Health along with the University of Regina’s Faculty of Engineering to figure out how to create such a program. Just two short years later, in 1999, the Environmental Health Studies Program (ENHS) was born.

ENHS prepares students to become inspectors, researchers, and professionals in many other health-related areas. The program offers a Bachelor of Applied Science in affiliation with the U of R’s engineering faculty.

Leanne Striker, a former graduate of ENHS, says that the education and training in this program is diverse. Today, Leanne is the Program Coordinator and oversees all of students that come through the doors.

“If you’re interested in learning, it’s a great profession to get into,” she said.

ENHS offers an alternative to science. Rather than doing the usual lab work, students tan hides, dye porcupine quills, and practice other traditional methods of science.

Leanne believes that First Nations people used science in everything they did. Through physics, chemistry, and the understanding of lifecycles, the world of science is comparable to Indigenous knowledge in ways we don’t see, but has been here since the beginning of time.

“Each day is different [and] we do some very diverse things,” said Leanne.

While students are enrolled with the ENHS program, they have the choice to specialize in a specific area including: water treatment, food inspection, disease control, or even ensuring skating rinks are safe for public use.

“We are interested in what things in the environment can cause disease or injury to a human,” she said.

Leanne said with dedication to their studies anyone can pursue this field as a profession, and that the support offered by faculty members and professors is outstanding compared to other science programs elsewhere.

Although not all required classes are taught by the department, professors connect with and are more than willing to put in extra hours to help students succeed.

About 50 students have graduated from the program so far, and moved on to work for organizations like the Ministry of Health, Health Canada, and the First Nations Health Authority.